(NewsNation) — Russian forces have fired at eight cities and villages in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine over the past 24 hours, using aviation, rockets and heavy artillery.
At least 37 residential buildings and infrastructure facilities were damaged; dozens of civilians were killed or injured as a result of the attacks, Ukraine’s National Police said.
Russian military members were firing at Mariupol, a city which has seen immense suffering in the war, Avdiivka, Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, Novoselydivka, Verkhnotoretske, Krymka and Stepne.
On Saturday, Russian forces pushed deeper into Mariupol. Heavy fighting shut down a major steel plant there.
“Children, elderly people are dying. The city is destroyed and it is wiped off the face of the earth,” Mariupol police officer Michail Vershnin said in a video addressed to Western leaders that was authenticated by The Associated Press.
Putin’s forces are in position to capture Mariupol. Satellite images show long lines of cars leaving as people try to evacuate the city. More than 9,000 people were able to leave the city in the past day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Among the civilian objects destroyed by Russia are multistory and private houses, a school, a kindergarten, a museum, a shopping center and administrative buildings, Ukraine’s National Police said.
Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin and Moshchun, all northwestern suburbs in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital were also under fire on Saturday.
Slavutich, north of the capital was “completely isolated,” Kyiv’s regional administration reported.
Seven people were killed and five others wounded after a Friday mortar attack on Makariv, with Kyiv regional police saying the attack destroyed residential houses and damaged administrative and other buildings.
Earlier Saturday, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office alleged that Russia’s Federal Security Service, or the FSB, and the Russian military abducted the journalist of Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske on Tuesday in Berdyansk. The statement didn’t identify the journalists, whose whereabouts are unknown by officials.
A Friday strike by Russian forces on a missile and ammunition warehouse in the Delyatyn settlement of the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine was reported by a local newspaper.
Even with cities under siege and devastation across the country, signs are abundant of how Ukraine frustrated Vladimir Putin’s hopes for a swift victory, and how Russia’s military proved far from ready for the fight.
Zelenskyy called on the Swiss government to freeze the bank accounts of all Russian oligarchs on Saturday.
Swiss public broadcaster SRF reported that Zelenskyy, who spoke via livestream to thousands of antiwar protesters in the Swiss city of Bern, said “in your banks are the funds of the people who unleashed this war. Help to fight this. So that their funds are frozen. (…) It would be good to take away those privileges from them.”
Zelenskyy could be seen on a big screen sitting behind a desk wearing a short-sleeved camouflage T-shirt. His speech was dubbed into German. When he called for the blocking of oligarchs’ accounts, great applause erupted.
SRF also reported that the Ukrainian president criticized the Swiss multinational food conglomerate Nestle, which has decided not to withdraw from Russia for the time being, as opposed to many other international companies.
A bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers visiting Poland said Saturday that the most urgent need in Ukraine’s fight against a Russian invasion is to equip and support the country in every way that will help it defend its independence.
The seven-member delegation led by Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has visited reception centers for refugees from Ukraine in eastern Poland. They noted Poland’s openness in accepting refugees from Ukraine, including in private homes. More than 2 million people fleeing war have come to Poland since Feb. 24, when Russia’s troops invaded Ukraine.
“We are here to reassure and support the people of Ukraine. We are here to thank the people of Poland for the unbelievable generosity they have shown to the refugees,” said Lynch, who is chairman of the subcommittee on National Security in the Committee on Oversight and Reform.
During an online meeting with the media Saturday, the American lawmakers stressed the need to urgently assist Ukraine’s military in their fight against Russian forces. They said there is no room for peace talks as long as there is a “hot war.”
“The most urgent action that we can take is to make sure that the Ukrainian fighters — those valiant patriots who are fighting for their freedom — have every bit of equipment, every bit of supply, every bit of support that we can possibly deliver to them,” Lynch said.
A truck carrying Russian troops crashes, its doors blown open by a rocket-propelled grenade. Foreign-supplied drones target Russian command posts. Orthodox priests in trailing vestments parade Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag in defiance of their Russian captors in the occupied city of Berdyansk.
Russia has lost hundreds of tanks, many left charred or abandoned along the roads, and its death toll is on a pace to outstrip that of the country’s previous military campaigns.
Yet more than three weeks into the war, with Putin’s initial aim of an easy regime change in Ukraine long gone, Russia’s military still has a strong hand. With their greater might and stockpile of city-flattening munitions, Russian forces can fight on for whatever the Russian president may plan next, whether leveraging a negotiated settlement or brute destruction, military analysts warn.
Despite all the determination of Ukraine’s people, all the losses among Russia’s forces, and all the errors of Russia’s leaders, there is no sign that the war will soon be over. Even if he fails to take control of the country, Putin can keep up the punishing attacks on its cities and people.
And that the Russian president has done.
“For us in Ukraine it means Putin can hit us everywhere,” Nazar Zinchuk, executive editor of LvivLab.com, said on “NewsNation Prime” Friday of the missiles hitting Lviv and other cities in western Ukraine.
Two missile strikes in the Zaporizhzhia suburbs killed nine people on Friday, wounded 17 more and left five others with injuries, a spokesman of the Zaporizhzhia regional administration, Ivan Arefiev said Saturday.
In Zaporizhzhia, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh has announced a 38-hour curfew to last from 4 p.m. local time on Saturday until 6 a.m. on Monday.
10 humanitarian corridors were agreed on with the Russians, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced Saturday. These corridors include one from Mariupol, several in the Kyiv region and several in the Luhansk region.
Putin’s forces in Ukraine are waging Russia’s largest, most complex combined military campaign since taking Berlin in 1945. His initial objective, which he announced in a television address on Feb. 24 as the invasion began, was to “demilitarize” Ukraine and save its people from “neo-Nazis,” a false description of Ukraine’s government, which is led by a Jewish president.
Fatefully, Putin underestimated the national pride and battlefield skills that Ukrainians have built up over the past eight years of battling Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east.
That’s a view shared by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Hancharuk on Friday’s “Banfield.” “Ukraine is a peaceful but free nation,” Hancharuk said. “During all our history, we have been fighting for our freedom for hundreds of years. That’s why we understand very well that if we don’t fight, we will become slaves. We are not slaves, we are free people.”
At the start, Russians thought “they would install, you know, some pro-Russian government and call it a day and declare victory,” said Dmitry Gorenburg, a researcher on Russia’s security at the Virginia-based CNA think tank. “That was sort of Plan A, and as near as we can tell, they didn’t really have a Plan B.”
Russia’s first apparent plan — attack key Ukrainian military targets, and make a quick run to Kyiv — failed immediately. It was foiled by Ukraine’s defenses along with the countless mistakes and organizational failures by a Russian force that had been told it was only mobilized for military drills.
With no friendly population to welcome them, Russian forces reverted to tactics from their past offensives in Syria and Chechnya — dropping bombs and lobbing missiles into cities and town, sending millions of men, women and children fleeing.
Experts say Putin will continue to pound away militarily because he’s essentially out of options.
“His back is to the wall and he knows he’s all in,” NATO adviser Dmitri Alperovitch told Leland Vittert Friday on “On Balance.” “Unless he gets major concessions from Ukraine, like (pledging not to join) NATO and (giving up) Donbas there’s just no way he can pull back and save face.”
Putin is killing civilians with “alarming” regularity, Jamil Jaffer, former associate White House counsel said on “Dan Abrams Live” on Friday of Putin’s war tactics.
“He’s targeting hospitals, schools, the core infrastructure in Ukraine in an effort to make the Ukrainian government make concessions,” Jaffer said.
Overall, Russians appear to be fighting with three objectives now: to surround Kyiv, to encircle spread-out Ukrainian fighters in the east, and to break through to the major port city of Odesa in the west, said Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military and program director at CNA.
Kofman cautions that much of the information on the war is coming from Ukrainians or their American or other allies. That makes the partial picture skewed, and a full picture impossible.
A senior U.S. defense official on Friday said the Russians have launched more than 1,080 missiles since the start of the war as they remain largely stalled across the country. The official said they retain about 90% of the combat power they had arrayed around Ukraine at the start of the war.
The U.S. assesses that the airspace over Ukraine remains contested, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military assessments. The Ukrainian air force is continuing to fly aircraft and employ air and missile defense.
Estimates of Russian deaths vary widely. Yet even conservative figures are in the low thousands. That’s a much faster pace than in previous Russian offensives, threatening support for the war among ordinary Russians. Russia had 64 deaths in five days of fighting during its 2008 war with Georgia. It lost about 15,000 in Afghanistan over 10 years, and more than 11,000 over years of fighting in Chechnya.
Russia’s number of dead and wounded in Ukraine is nearing the 10% benchmark of diminished combat effectiveness, Gorenburg said. The reported battlefield deaths of four Russian generals — out of an estimated 20 in the fight — signal impaired command, he said.
Researchers tracking only those Russian equipment losses that were photographed or recorded on video say Russia has lost more than 1,500 tanks, trucks, mounted equipment and other heavy gear. Two out of three of those were captured or abandoned, signaling the failings of the Russian troops that let them go.
Other Russian options remain possible, including a negotiated settlement.
Moscow is demanding that Ukraine formally embrace neutrality, thus swearing off any alliance with NATO, and recognize the independence of the separatist regions in the east and Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Russia’s other options include an unrelenting air campaign in which it bombs and depopulates cities as it did in Chechnya and Syria. U.S. officials also warn of the risk of Russian chemical attacks, and the threat of escalation to nuclear war.
“Unless the Russians intend to be completely genocidal — they could flatten all the major cities, and Ukrainians will rise up against Russian occupation — there will be just constant guerrilla war” if Russian troops remain, Michael Clarke, former head of the British-based Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank, said.